Image from publicly available images page of the Kerbal Space Program website
That’s one small step for Jebediah Kerman, and one giant leap for Kerbal-kind!
This past Monday, one of the prodigal sons of indie game development has finally left the confines of Early Access and has found its way into the wilds of full release. Kerbal Space Program has launched version 1.0, closing the book on one of the most remarkable examples of a playable beta since Minecraft. With a strong core concept, endless replayability, and a strong community of gamers, modders, and streamers, you have a formula for indie greatness.
So, in honor of Kerbal Space Program’s momentous release, let’s take a look at where it came from, what it is, and to what galaxy it may be going next.
Kerbal Space Program arrived on the scene in June of 2011, developed by Squad, and the brainchild of developer Felipe Falanghe, a Squad employee at the time. Notably, Squad is not a traditional game studio. Rather, they are an interactive marketing company based in Mexico City, which specializes in websites and multi-media installations. However, they are extremely supportive of their employee’s personal projects, visions, and passions. It was this supportive environment that allowed Felipe to begin work on the game idea that had been floating around in his head for some time.
I doubt the owners of Squad could have ever predicted where this would take them.
Kerbal Space Program launched with a relatively simple premise – spaceship sandbox. It begins with a solar system that contains numerous planets and moons, the distances ranging from close to ludicrous. It then hands the player a toolbox full of spaceship components then sits quietly in the corner while the player figures out the rest. It’s remarkable how compelling it is to be given a far-off goal, and discovering step by step how to get there. Each failure(and fail you will) only makes you want it more, and the eventual success feels that much more sweet, given the piles of rubble and innumerable explosions it took to get there.
As someone who has been simply enthralled by space travel for most of his life, this game was a dream – to be put at the head of my own space program, and to be given free reign to design wild spaceships and explore the solar system to my hearts content.
Kerbal Space Program saw its first public release through Steam Early Access in June of 2011. Though the Early Access system has been developing an ill reputation lately, Kerbal Space Program remains the gold standard for what an Early Access release should be. While the game was incomplete, and there were certainly bugs to be found, its foundation was rock solid. The core mechanics – building spaceships to take off and land on distant planets – were fully formed, functional, and fun as hell. The remaining features to be developed were meant to enhance this core experience, not complete it.
I played hours upon hours of Kerbal Space Program while it was still in Early Access. What amazed me most was how the game encouraged you to learn. Rocket science, orbital mechanics, and aerodynamics are not easy beasts to master and even Kerbal’s stripped down versions of them can be daunting. Admittedly the games early tutorials were…nonexistent, but that didn’t steer too many people away. The game made mastering these techniques feel like a challenge, and it led me to scour guides and Youtube videos for strategies and explanations. Now I use terminology like “Orbital Insertion Burn” and “Retrograde Vector” like the best of them.
Kerbal Space Program is a game that lends itself exceedingly well to inspiring stories to be shared with other aspiring Kerbalnauts. Everyone remembers their first time into orbit. Everyone remembers their first successful trip to the Moon and the seven failed trips before that. The highs and lows, blunders and successes, each player will leave Kerbal Space Program with a library of experiences that are entirely and wonderfully unique.
This led, in part, to one of the strongest communities that I have seen surround a game. Forums and subreddits allow players to share their experiences. The phenomenal modding scene adds an enormous amount of content to the base game, all developed by passionate fans. The livestreaming and Youtube scene is going gangbusters, with notable Youtubers like Scott Manley producing guides, challenges, and multi-part series’ of his own adventures. The community that surrounds Kerbal Space Program is the perfect seasoning for what is already an excellent main dish of a game.
From the developer’s point of view, this 1.0 launch represents the completion of their initial vision for Kerbal Space Program, formed when development started in 2010. However, this is not the end of the road for this particular indie darling. It appears that more features are being planned, and further expansions and content will be released as time goes on. This commitment to a game’s vision and potential is what – in my mind – truly makes an indie studio great.
So with a successful launch of 1.0, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to the entire team over at Squad. What you have built is truly remarkable. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us next. I don’t know what it will be, but I know that it will take us to the stars.
To see more from Rob, check out his blog at Zero to Indie. There you’ll find more of his insight into the development process as well as other musings about games and their design!